A former boss of mine once likened the challenge of changing how an established organisation operates to turning around a juggernaut – it takes time and perseverance.

In the case of the insurance industry, the established practices were centuries old when the dotcom boom arrived. Just ask Nigel Phillips, CEO of our InsurTech 50 winner CDL.

Phillips joined Stockport-based CDL in 1997 and was initially responsible for insurer relationships before moving into a business strategist role. Pivotal in making the company an early adopter of emerging technologies, he would become commercial director before being handed the top job in 2020.

“It’s been a pretty exciting journey,” he tells BusinessCloud of a company which powers transactions across insurance and financial services markets.

“When I joined, we had a number of key customers that had a strong vision on how they saw the transformation of the insurance and technology world. One of those customers was Ford and Norwich Union – or Aviva as they are now – who wanted to sell fully configured cars online but also the additional services like finance and insurance.

“They asked us to build the capability for a customer to get a quote for insurance while still in the dealership. That really started to change CDL into what it is today.

“It has been extremely challenging to take an industry that has been around for several hundred years and move it forward – change the processes and the thinking, ultimately, to take advantage of technology.”

CDL Group

Two pillars

CDL’s customers include major general insurers, financial institutions, price comparison sites and providers including Co-op Insurance, RAC Insurance, Sainsbury’s Bank, Swinton Insurance and British Gas.

As technology has moved forward, its data and digital services now bring together public and private data through API-based hubs and platforms, integrating with policy administration and core insurance systems.

“Growth and innovation have been the two pillars that we’ve applied to how we’ve changed the market – and changed CDL,” says Phillips. “The founder of the organisation [Tom Hogg] had a very strong sense of wanting to be first to market. My role was always to enhance that theme.

“Over that period, the changes in technology and consumer expectations have been a really big driver for us. We’ve tried to lead a great deal of that change – and work with a number of different partners to help it come about.

“When you’re in the space of trying to transform a sector, you have to be pretty nimble because things change quite frequently. Some of the more recent changes are around the capabilities of cyber protection, and the impact of artificial intelligence on coding and testing, which are pretty significant. 

“We’ve got to make sure that we have a mature understanding at the beginning of those activities. I think that’s why we’ve been able to put some distance between us and our peers in the marketplace.”

InsurTech 50 – UK’s most innovative insurance technology creators for 2022

User experience

A key consideration for the company is empowering the user. “Retailers in the UK insurance sector have obviously looked at systems that can help with cost optimisation and efficiencies. What we try to do is think about the consumer’s expectations and build an ecosystem around that,” he explains. 

“We bring together all of the parties – price comparison sites, insurers, brokers, retailers, financial institutions, data enrichers – in a marketplace model which allows all of those partners to pool their capabilities to help consumers get the right protections that they need for their insurance policies. 

“We are the technology behind the scenes which powers those transactions. In the marketplace, most transactions actually flow through us for insurance.”

In 2022, CDL became a cloud-only company, having migrated all its core systems and customers to AWS hosting. While it may not be a household name when compared with some of its higher-profile clients, Phillips says it has been pivotal to their success. “We worked with, GoCompare and CompareTheMarket at their very initial sessions… and they’ve obviously gone on to great things themselves.”

In its latest available annual results – the year to 30th September 2021 – CDL reported a rise in profit after tax to £11.2m in 2021, up from £9.8m the year before, while turnover increased by more than £1m to £53.8m.

Global growth

The firm, which employs 560 people, has around 300 partners. The core of these are based in the UK, but many have a global footprint – and this is a core focus for Phillips in 2023 and beyond.

“We are organically growing in international markets with customers that are building a global footprint themselves,” he says. “The UK is the world’s most sophisticated market for insurance and the problems that we’ve solved here lend themselves to implementation in different geographies. 

“We need to be conscious as to how we roll out the ecosystem with that global blueprint and make the most of this – that is one of the challenges that we have.”

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